The Yampa River is considered one of the country’s last free-flowing rivers, and is the historic, cultural, recreational, economic, and environmental backbone of a large swath of northwestern Colorado. In recent years, stakeholders in the Yampa Basin have worked on multiple fronts to protect the river’s health and ability to sustain the basin’s agriculture. The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (“the District”) manages an on-stream reservoir in the headwaters of the Yampa River and is a major stakeholder in the river’s management and operations. Its reservoir has been a long-time source of water for agriculture and ranching in the Upper Yampa River Basin.
The District was originally created by state law to store and release water for its agricultural, municipal, and industrial customers, with the power to levy taxes to help protect this local water supply. However, in recent years, the District has been under increasing pressure not only to meet the consumptive needs its customers, but to help address the non-consumptive needs of recreators, anglers, fish, and the health of the river itself. Stakeholders have increasingly sought the District’s collaboration in creatively addressing these broader, more integrated challenges of the river and its users – pushing the District to redefine its historic role in the basin.
The District hired CBI to help it navigate and address these interests to broaden its vision, given what some in the District considered to be serious constraints. CBI conducted an assessment to help the District understand what its partners and constituents valued about the District and what role they envisioned it playing in the basin to address the modern challenges of the Yampa. CBI interviewed the District’s agricultural, environmental, recreational, municipal, and industrial stakeholders, as well as its board and staff. After the interviews, CBI analyzed the stakeholder and staff feedback for common themes and points of agreement. Major themes from the assessment included a desire for more clarity and transparency regarding District priorities and strategic vision. To address these issues, the District needed a strategic plan, outlining its mission, vision, and scope of work and sought help from CBI in creating the plan.
As the first outgrowth of the assessment, CBI helped the District convene a committee to lead the strategic plan effort and facilitated a nine-month process to develop and adopt its first-ever strategic plan.
A second result of the assessment was the District asking CBI to work intensively with the committee to develop its first-ever Board Governance Manual to guide the way in which the District sets its goals, objectives, and policy priorities. CBI facilitated discussions and decision-making ranging from the respective roles and relationship of the Board and General Manager to principles and norms by which the District engages its constituents. The Board adopted its Governance Manual less than a year after CBI launched the stakeholder assessment.
The District has its first ever strategic plan, a refocused Board with a clear governance structure, a new General Manager, and increasing interest among diverse basin stakeholders in serving on the District’s Board. The District is positioned for a new era of collaboration with its partners and stakeholders, having clarified through its strategic plan that its priorities include not just building reservoirs but using them to serve broader, multi-benefit objectives. To this end, the District is actively participating in a Yampa River Integrated Water Management Plan and Yampa-wide efforts to address issues ranging from agricultural return flows to watershed health. Perhaps most importantly, the District has demonstrated to its stakeholders a commitment to listen, engage, and respond, reaffirming its role as a leader for sustainable water use in the Yampa Basin.